Hooray! We made it to Round 3 of Project Food Blog! Thanks everyone for your help making it this far. The challenge for Round 3 is to host a Luxury Dinner Party.
When the wheels started turning on dinner ideas I thought something elaborate like Beef Wellington would be both fun to try making and luxurious. I started working out a menu and game plan, and slowly realized that this approach could be a little tricky now that we have 9 month old, Elena. Elaborate dishes with intricate and involved steps can be a little tricky when you are trying to keep tabs on a fast crawler.
It was clear that traditional luxury would not be an option for any dinner we were hosting. After 9 months of hurried meals and opportunistic eating, luxury needed to be re-baselined. Instead focusing on time consuming dishes that would allow us to display our culinary skills with the goal of impressing and wowing our friends, I decided to focus on a meal that could be prepared in stages and dishes that could be shared with our kid. The luxuries of this meal would be simpler, they would be getting to have friends around our table and being able to share a meal that could be enjoyed by even the youngest. This is a pretty far cry from the caviar and Champagne most people would associate with luxurious eating, and 9 months ago we might have agreed. However these days, a thoughtful meal uninterrupted by fussing seems pretty luxurious to us.
Of course making this dinner a success would require inviting guests who would be of similar mind. Luckily our friends Pete and Jocelyn have a daughter, Emily, who is only two weeks older than Elena. Pete was stuck catching up on yard work, but Jocelyn and Emily were able to attend.
Working together we came up with a menu of fall foods, all which would be easy to share with the kids and could be prepared ahead of time. We decided to have butternut squash risotto as the main dish, with some sort of baked apple dish for desert. With a basic menu concept in mind, we headed off to the Farmers’ Market to pickup some apples and to our community garden to pick some herbs. To round out the menu, we decided to have a Fall salad and make a batch of Gougeres.
The more work you can get done ahead of time, the more time you will have to hang out when people actually show up. The dishes we made could be mostly prepared ahead of time and were easily broken down into distinct stages. Having distinct stages in preparation is really helpful when you only have 5 minute blocks of usefulness to work with.
The Game Plan:
Gougeres: Gougeres are sort of like French cheese balls. They are made with a buttery, cheesy dough that puffs up when it bakes. The best part about them is that the dough can be made ahead of time and kept in a ziploc bag in the fridge. When you are ready to bake them, simply cut a off the bag, pipe it onto a tray and bake.
Fall Salad: (Pre-washed mixed greens, seedless red grapes, feta and toasted pecans.) Salads are pretty easy to make ahead of time and they keep well in the fridge undressed. Also make the dressing ahead of time and simply add it right before serving. I roasted the pecans while the oven was preheating for the other courses.
Butternut Squash Risotto: Risotto can take a while to make, but you get plenty of breaks throughout the process. When making risotto you add a cup of broth at a time and wait for it to be absorb by the rice. This gives you a break to wrestle a kid away from breakable objects or put the finishing touches on another course. With this dish, the butternut squash can be cooked ahead of time.
Apple Galette: This is like a rustic apple tart, cooked on a baking sheet instead of a tart tin. This dish can also be prepared in a number of stages. The apples can be peeled, sliced and prepped and then placed in the fridge. The crust can be made and filled with the apples and also kept in the fridge until it is ready to be baked.
Everything we made was easy to make kid friendly with a little slicing and dicing. Not only does this mean not having to worry about preparing another dish, but it is also great being able to share the food you eat with your kid–a definite win-win.
All of this planning and preparation paid off! While there was still stuff to do in the kitchen, like stirring the risotto, Carolyn and I were able to be social and hang out. It was nice to have grown-up conversations, even though the topics were more often than not about kids.
Of course none of this would matter if things did not end up tasting good. Luckily this was not the case! Both Emily and Elena gobbled up everything we gave them and since they haven’t quite figured out politeness, this is a pretty good sign.
For us, this was truly a luxurious dinner. Carolyn and I got to catch up with friends, Elena and Emily got to “goobber” around and we all got to eat a great meal. Spending the time to prepare a large meal and have people over may seem like an indulgence to many parents, but with a little planning and some understanding guests it is a truly rewarding experience.
Note: There is a word limit for the contest, so I will post the recipes for the risotto and galette latter this week. Luckily for you, we made gougeres for Thanksgiving and already have that recipe up.
Of course I took way too many photos…babies & food, can you blame me? Here are some bonus photos: